On Regret


Mara Mellits

Like the Ancient Greek myth of Sisyphus, the man damned to eternally push a rock up a hill, we must accept our mistakes and look forward toward the future.

By Theo Gary, Managing Editor

Ever seen a senior in their first year at a club? Not a leader, not a friend, just an observer. Are they doing it for college? For themselves? Some other inarticulable reason? The motives remain unclear. 

There are few other places in our society quite like a high school. You spend a short four years in a building in which you invest an extraordinary amount of time, effort and energy. Clubs, classes, friends and, well, more than friends seem so very important at all times. Yet, when life is fully revealed it becomes clear that, really, none of it mattered. Did you join the club? Get an A? Maybe, maybe not. You probably won’t care in ten years. You probably won’t even remember. 

Given a period of time, all decisions made now, bad or good, fade into the background of everyday life. They have meaning, yes. Many things at all times do. But their significance is vastly overstated. 

High school is, in short, the time for mistakes. Mistakes made here can be fixed and habits made now can be broken — I used to shower weekly, now I shower daily. However, as an adult, change is much harder. 

The question is not about what choices you make or what habits you create, but about how you learn and respond to those setbacks and challenges. It’s Adult life with training wheels. So, how to continue after a mistake?

Well, don’t make it again. 

Easier said than done.

Sometimes — many times — the world and its virtues slip through our fingers. Like the imprint of a shoe on a staircase we create nothing and leave only the fact we were there behind. There are many reasons why this happens: depression, death, trauma. Oftentimes our world is just too much to handle. However, for some, it is a choice. The choice to remain mired in the past or move forward into the present.

Should I stay or should I go? A question so ubiquitous that there’s even a really great song about it. The phrase does point to an important part of life: choices. At Lane there are a lot of them. What curriculum, concentration or class? What club or sport? Where to eat? Who to eat with? If made wrong, you may end up with the wrong class, the wrong friends or none at all.

Freshman year, I clearly remember signing up for nothing and talking to no one. It was all right then, most people were stuck in the same boat. However, the issue was compounded when I did it again as a sophomore. I remember, clear as day, the sensation of making mistakes, feeling bad about them, then making them again. I distinctly remember showing up four or five separate days determined to join the cross country team and leaving without having as much as looked the coach in the eye.

 The litany of choices provided by the school was simply too much. The mistakes I made and the regret I had were because I made no choices, or, alternatively, made the choice to do nothing. At a certain point I looked behind me and realized the present had slipped through my fingers. I woke up and was awash in regret.

That regret is a sad state of affairs, it requires two awful components: a mistake and a vengeful mind. Instead of letting it inform my decisions so as to rectify my mistakes, I allowed it to build to a point where looking at the present or future became an onerous thing a place reserved for optimists and fools.

Despite my best efforts and totally on its own, things got better. I think the social vortex of the school forced me into contact with enough people that I found some. The problem, however, was that nothing changed internally. When the legitimate problems went away they were replaced by made up ones. Everything tasted bad because, well, I wanted it to. 

What it meant was forgetting I had agency. I lived entirely in the past, slowly grinding toward the ultimate failure state. Regret kept me from starting or finishing. It kept me outside of the present. 

How does one move past that? I’m unsure. It took a reset of my life to make it manageable: new friends, new habits and new interests. Like removing a limb or syphoning out blood it was a long and painful process. The fight back involved, most importantly, trying new things and then doing them consistently. Joining clubs and writing, if just for myself, chipped away at the ever present regret. It meant learning to live with my mistakes and, most importantly, changing my behaviors. 

Like Sisyphus, each of us is forever stuck pushing our own rock up our own hill. There’s a certain beauty in that, knowing exactly what you’re doing and why. There’s a calm too if you accept the rock and push because you have decided it’s best. Instead of worrying about why the boulder is there, worry just about the boulder.      

The present is beautiful — act like it.